Deer Scout’s debut full length Woodpecker is a record about memory and the subconscious. And like an unforgettable dream that keeps you puzzling over its riddles for days, it’s as packed with direct symbols as it is with ruminative haze. “I approach songwriting as a process of boxing things up, or putting away a time capsule,” explains front person Dena Miller, who wrote the album over a period of six years. It’s a culminating collection of the project’s many sounds and influences to date, from Philly’s punk cooperatives to Oberlin’s conservatory experimentalism to New York’s DIY history. At the center is Miller’s assured guitar fingerpicking and boldly clear voice, firmly grounded even as it gently probes uncertain emotional and musical terrain.
Raised by two folk musicians in Yonkers, Miller began recording songs as Deer Scout her freshman year of college in Philadelphia. There, she wrote Woodpecker's earliest song “Synesthesia” about a train ride home from a basement show: “Night in the city / Big house on the corner / Her voice has the timbre of summers ago,” recalls Miller resonantly. After Miller’s transfer to Oberlin College, Deer Scout began touring DIY venues around the country and sharing stages with favorite artists including Waxahatchee and Told Slant. The twinned intimacy and intricacy of those two influences is reflected in the carefully adventurous arrangements on Woodpecker, which features, among other contributors, bass from close collaborator Ko Takasugi-Czernowin, cello from Zuzia Weyman, drums from Madel Rafter, and guitar from Miller’s father Mark — who also wrote the song “Peace with the Damage” and originally released it with his band Spuyten Duyvil in 2011.
Many of the songs on Woodpecker were written during periods of grief or change. “I used to sing myself to sleep as a baby and I think music still plays the same role in my life — it’s a way of self-soothing or seeking comfort,” explains Miller. “But there’s also part of it that comes from wanting to connect with people." Recorded and mixed primarily by Heather Jones at So Big Auditory in Philly with overdubs by Miller at home, Woodpecker is an exercise in portraying the incommunicable. “Cup” — about a relational psychology test called “a walk in the woods” that turns encounters with symbols into meaning — uses watery arpeggios, wintry strings, and roving bass to create a liminal sonic space, optimistic but tense. “Cowboy,” with airy layers of acoustic guitar riffs and Miller’s charmingly double tracked voice, takes its little fish, big pond inspiration from the character Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy. And “Afterthought,” with its unexpectedly bright resolutions, is about God, love, and the complexity of desire; “Heaven isn’t watching us,” sings Miller candidly over pedal steel.
Though Woodpecker is a record about uncertainty and the unknown, it’s also about compassion and connection — as Miller was able to find over the course of writing and recording this next chapter for Deer Scout and first release for Carpark, which she’s excited to at last share with the world.